Once in a while I like to remind everyone of some of the trust points that exist out there in Internet land, and this time I will underline the importance of paying attention because dang, it seems just about everyone is stuffing crap into your local Flash storage these days.
Everyone knows about cookies, those little locally-stored files that companies hide on your system so they can refer back to the hidden data later when you come back for another page, or when you visit a partner website. Cookies are what makes the stateless web stateful — without a cookie stored on your machine, a web site cannot relate two web page requests to each other. There would not be any “login” without cookies, because the cookie maintains your status as a logged in user. There can be no “remember me” without cookies, because the cookie is the “memory” storage facility. If you clear your cookies, you will find that websites you visit regularly no longer recognize you (until you fill out the login form again, at which time the website places a new cookie on your system).
Companies would not be able to track you easily either if there were no cookies, because by sharing cookie data companies can share usage data and ultimately track your usage of the Internet. And that’s why people like to clear their cookies. By clearing the cookies, you maintain some control over how you appear to those companies tracking your use of the Internet.
There are other ways to track, however, and one of those has become a major tool of companies these days. I am seeing just about everyone taking advantage of the local storage made available outside of the cookie system by the Flash player. Hiding tracking data in the Flash local storage is nothing new… this has been going on for years. However, lately it is amazing just how much stuff is being stuffed into that Flash storage.
If you want to see for yourself, you simply need to visit the Fash local settings control panels for your system and set your system to “always ask” for requests to utilize the local storage. You will also need to clear the existing permissions and data (which might be quite substantial if you didn’t already know about this “feature” of Flash). And of course be forewarned that clearing your local settings will change your browsing experience. Pandora will forget who you are, for example, as Pandora uses Flash to store your identity. Ditto for other websites, just as if they had been using cookies and you cleared your cookies. You can also access the settings manager with a right-click on any embedded flash object, such as a YouTube video. A right-click should offer a settings option.
It used to be my Flash local storage was stuffed by obvious Flash content… Flash content which desired to store variables or settings for use by that Flash application. Now, however, it seems web designers are placing tiny meaningless little Flash objects into web pages just to utilize the Flash local settings storage for hiding tracking data. Geez… Youtube is barely usable with “always ask” turned on… every few seconds it’s trying to store something locally. Is this really necessary?
Check it out for yourself… visit the Adobe page that displays your Flash local storage settings manager, clear the junk they’d already stored on your system, clear the list of “allowed websites”, and set your privacy to “always ask”. Then resume surfing and be amazed as your are contsantly interrupted by web site after web site seeking to store stuff on your system.
Beware that you’ll need to visit most of the tabs of the Flash local settings manager app to be sure you get all of it… not just the “Global Privacy Settings”. They have some redundancy in there and certainly didn’t make it easy to take control of your own system.